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Elder Ones



Biography

Sometimes the eye of a storm can draw upon the chaos around it, taking on its energy and consolidating it for use. Something like that is going on in Elder Ones, the quartet led by the vocalist and harmonium player Amirtha Kidambi. She creates drones on the harmonium — an old, air-powered keyboard — and coaxes her bandmates into ripping them apart. Then her voice funnels that energy out in a scorching beam. In its best moments, it’s like a mix of a
Cuban sonero’s citrusy cry and a riot grrrl yowl. - New York Times, Giovanni Russonello

As Ben Ratliff wrote in the New York Times, “the aggressive and sublime first album by the band Elder Ones, Holy Science, is a kind of gauge for how strong and flexible the scene of young musicians in New York’s improvised and experimental music world can be.” Seth Colter
Walls writes in Pitchfork, “This sound isn’t merely the product of well-chosen reference points; in its abstract way, it makes a unique argument for the virtue of cross-cultural curiosity. Appropriately, the nature of this music is constantly morphing. When a muted introduction
gives way to a more celebratory aesthetic, the change is achieved gradually, through small changes in the arrangement. When a demonstration of rage reaches a peak that cannot be sustained, the musicians in Elder Ones are able to navigate back to a more stable feel, without losing the passion and awareness that has animated those foregoing blasts of harshness. The result is an astonishing debut for a composer, and her band.”

Kidambi formally trained in classical music, singing works by avant-gardists including Nono and Stockhausen, but the pull of free jazz and Alice Coltrane drew her toward a different path. The influence of both Alice and John Coltrane is especially apparent on the new album, as is her work with composer and saxophonist Darius Jones, and her study of Carnatic music.

While in Darius Jones’s a cappella group, Kidambi developed a language for wordless vocals, freeing her from being tied to syntax, a technique she uses through most of Holy Science. The music is anchored by bass-lines and drones on the harmonium, often doubled on the bass by Brandon Lopez. Matt Nelson on the soprano saxophone evokes the sound of the Indian double-reed nadhaswaram, and the playing of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, blending with and harmonizing her voice and the reeds of the harmonium. Drummer Max Jaffe’s ability to seamlessly pivot between complex grooves and timbrally explorative free-playing, completes the equation. Each musician was chosen for their unique improvisatory language on their instrument, ultimately informing Kidambi’s compositional approach.

Kidambi’s recent compositions on the band’s follow-up release (Fall 2018), include fragments of lyrics that express themes of political resistance, hoping to incite in the listener a sense of urgency and catharsis in these uncertain times. The sonic palette is augmented by electronics, with the addition of analog synthesizer and sensory electronics in the percussion. Bassist Nick Dunston contributes a raw and emotional energy, in his recording debut with the group.

Watch Past Performances

Video 3/25/2019: Elder Ones

Quartet Elder Ones creates drones on the harmonium—an old, air-powered keyboard—and coaxes their bandmates into ripping them apart.

Presented as part of DIRECT CURRENT

 Elder Ones